Syria is the Only Game in Town

[Landis Analysis]

Syria is the only game in town for those wishing to advance peace between Arabs and Israel. This has the Jewish right apoplectic. Danielle Pletka who worked under John Bolton in the State Department tries sarcasm and insults in her “The Syrian Strategy” to embarrass those who would advance this strategy.

Barry Rubin, publisher of MERIA journal and author of The Truth About Syria gathered several Washington Institute types such as Patrick Clawson and David Schenker and other likeminded policy types to tell Americans that they are foolish to negotiate with Syria and Iran. Equally foolish is to try to make peace between Arabs and Jews or to withdraw from Iraq anytime soon. Rubin knowingly asserts that Obama’s

“belief, that [America] can make friends with Iran and Syria, soothe grievances that have caused Islamism and terrorism, and solve the Arab-Israeli conflict …. is a miscalculation about the Middle East.”

Americans perennially make the mistake of viewing the Middle East “in Western terms,” Rubin informs us, which leads “to frustration and even disaster.” Why? Because “You have to inspire fear in your enemies.” “Unfortunately, the change they want means wiping other states off the map.”

This “good versus evil” world view is repeated by the other participants of this round table, who seem to be nodding at each other in their desire to sound the toxin of existential extinction should the new administration lift its foot off the throat of its Arab and Persian enemies. The US’s only choice is to keep its many enemies in the region in a state of abject fear.

David Schenker explains that Bush viewed Bashar al-Assad as “basically as irredeemable.” Schenker basically agrees. He worries that “Obama appears to believe that Syria can play a more productive role in the region.” To Schenker’s chagrin, even “Dennis Ross, himself who is being mentioned as the possible Middle East coordinator has written that Assad should be tested.”  Dennis Ross is The Washington Institute’s counselor and Ziegler distinguished fellow. David Schenker is a senior fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute.

Schenker concedes that if Syria were to flip, and cut its relations with Iran and “jettison Hizballah and Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups and move into the Western camp,” it would be a good thing. Like, Barry Rubin, Schenker clearly does not expect Syria to do any such thing. To guard against the Golan being given away for what he seems to believe will be nothing, Schenker will have to police the Obama administration and encourage it to make many up front demands for change.

He and his colleagues will work assiduously to hang all kinds of Christmas balls and bobbles on the engagement tree, such that it is hard to imagine any progress or deal being struck. In order to protect her flank from such criticism, Israel’s foreign minister Livni reassured Israelis that she would be tough and not accept a “humus” peace. She said,

“What is important to us is not a peace of opening embassies and eating Humus in Damascus, but the halting of arms smuggling through Syria to Hezbollah, their strong ties to Iran and their endless support of terrorist organizations such as Hamas,” said the foreign minister.

Olmert has defended his drive to continue negotiations:

Referring to the ongoing indirect talks, Olmert said “the talks with Syria were thorough and important. Removing Syria from the radical axis is one of Israel’s top priorities.””Tough sacrifices will be required,” Olmert said, “but the prevention of lost lives is worth it. Syria is not interested in belonging to the axis of evil and wants to forge ties with the U.S.”

For his part, Bashar al-Assad also has demands and wants to tamp down expectations that he flip. He wants Israelis to agree on the exact 1967 Golan borders, (see: Assad seeks Israeli stance on Golan) so that the two sides will not get stuck in Geneva as they did in 2000 with very different expectations about borders. Assad also told European diplomats that he isn’t responsible for restraining Hezbollah, and won’t be “Israel’s bodyguard.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad has told a number of European foreign ministers and senior diplomats this month that he would not lift a finger to restrain Hezbollah’s arming in Lebanon. “I am not Israel’s bodyguard,” he reportedly said…. On the one hand, the officials said their impression was that the Syrian president was serious about negotiations, but that Assad’s positions remained uncompromising.

The source said Assad told the Europeans that Syria was willing to take significant steps in talks with Israel only after an Israeli declaration that it would withdraw from the entire Golan Heights.

Assad refuses to make concessions before he gets guarantees about withdrawal. Israel will also refuse to make concessions until it has guarantees.

Another topic that will be interesting to those of us that follow Syria closely is David Schenker’s successful enticement of Andrew Tabler to work for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Andrew Tabler will give the Institute’s Program on Arab Politics some real expertise on Syria. As WINEP’s site explains, “Andrew Tabler …. will focus on how to engage Syria in a way that best advances U.S. interests.”

Anyone who follows Syria will know Tabler for his long and founding association with “Syria Today,” Syria’s first English language magazine. He has been a powerful and creative presence in the expat scene in Damascus for almost eight years. This is how Tabler describes himself for WINEP’s bio:

A journalist and researcher, Mr. Tabler has achieved unparalleled qualitative and long-term access to Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. He is the cofounder and former editor-in-chief of Syria Today, Syria’s first private-sector English-language magazine, and has been a media consultant for Syrian nongovernmental organizations (2003-2004) under the patronage of Syrian first lady Asma al-Asad.

Lebanon Now carries a lengthy interview with Tabler as he prepared to leave Beirut, where he has lived half the time.

On the surface, we’re [American and Syria] very, very similar. But there are fundamental differences. The Arab world is badly ruled. Its rulers are not accountable to their people, and they often make very bad decisions. Because of that, people keep a lot of their personal feelings to themselves. When you get a chance to know people and find out about how they feel, you realize about their everyday frustrations, especially from the lack of reform. It’s not just a lack of democracy. It’s a lack of reform in these countries. …

There are many people in Washington right now that believe that Syria can be flipped and so on, and that by getting Syria to agree to sign a peace agreement with Israel is the key. It’s true, that if you had a peace treaty between Israel and Syria, it would definitely change the way Syria is regarded by the international community [and] would definitely change the way the regime would govern the country. But there is no silver bullet when it comes to Syria. There is no easy solution. ….

[The Obama people] have indicated they will use sanctions and other punitive measures to cajole their adversaries into cooperation. I expect the Obama administration… to use all the arrows into America’s quiver to bring Syria around…. I was the only foreign correspondent to ever travel with the Syrian president on a foreign state visit (China, 2004), and so I understand… [Syria’s] strengths and weaknesses. I want to try and make it so that whatever discussions come about are based on Syria as it is as well as what it could realistically be.

What do you think of Syria’s role in Lebanon?

I just think it’s important to not go back to the way things were in the 1990s. The 1990s for some people was an era of stability. For other people, especially in Lebanon, it was a nightmare. So it’s very important for US policymakers… [and] people who work on Syria in general to make sure that the US says very clearly to Syria that whatever happens, we can’t go back to the way things were in the 1990s. It’s not good for Lebanon, and it’s not good for Syria. …  I don’t think [Obama’s] advisors are naïve. I don’t think they’ll be handing Lebanon back to Syria like in the 1990s. That was the historical exception. This isn’t going to happen again. It shouldn’t happen again because the first time, it didn’t work out very well. Also, perhaps most importantly here, this would also not be very good for Syria. During those years that Syria was in Lebanon and controlled Lebanon, they used Lebanon as the economic lung that stifled economic reform at home. Syria has to reform in order to accommodate the globalization. I recently attended a conference where Obama and McCain’s senior foreign policy advisors spoke in detail. I found Obama’s advisors very well-informed. We’ll have to see, but I’m optimistic.

I must say that I was a bit surprised to hear that Tabler was successfully recruited by WINEP. Some critics argue that the Institute acts as a quasi arm of the pro-Israel lobby. All the same, it does make sense in that it is the most influential Washington think tank on things Middle Eastern, in particular on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Martin Indyk helped to found it and Dennis Ross has hangs his hat there when he isn’t working for the president. What is more, precious few think tanks would hire a Syria specialist, so it is quite possible that Tabler had few choices. It is hard to think of a pro-Arab think tank in Washington that supports fellows – certainly not one that would hire a scholar for his knowledge of Syria. Unlike Jewish-Americans, Syrian-Americans don’t give money to think tanks, perhaps for the reasons that Tabler outlined in his interview.

As Tabler says, he is the “only foreign correspondent to ever travel with the Syrian president on a foreign state visit (China, 2004), so I imagine that someone in Syria is catching hell for his choice of employer after eight years in Damascus.

The Lebanese are also busy policing the Obama administration’s urge to engage Syria, as the following conference suggests.

 

Lebanon: The Future of a Sovereign State

(CSRwire) Washington, DC – December 15, 2008 – With an eye towards exploring the legacy and the future of Lebanon’s 2005 Cedar Revolution, which forced the exit of Syrian forces from Beirut, the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation (LRF) and the Aspen Institute hosted a forum event with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Dep. Asst. Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, Saban Center Director Martin Indyk, US Representative Charles Boustany (D-La.), US Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), The Daily Star Opinion Editor Michael Young, Washington Post Columnist David Ignatius, Lebanese Minister of State Nassib Lahoud, several Lebanese Members of Parliament, and foreign policy experts from the Council of Foreign Relations, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Religioscope Foundation. The December 12 forum was the first major US program sponsored by the LRF.

During the day-long event, panelists discussed how Lebanon can ensure its sovereignty, establish a functional democracy, and eliminate threats from inside the country and from abroad. The event kicked off with a call from Secretary Albright for the United States to support the efforts of the non-Hezbollah forces in Lebanon to provide the basic services of a democratic government: “Democracy has to deliver. People want to vote and eat.”

“Our goal is to help Lebanon claim its birthright as a great nation, a regional center of finance and the arts, an example of what’s possible among people when they can work on building something up, rather than tearing each other down,” said Eli Khoury, president of LRF.

Citing the impressive ability of Lebanon, a country the size of Delaware, to “get the attention of the world,” Feltman spoke to an audience that included a number of Lebanese citizens about the likelihood of a shift in tone and emphasis with an incoming Obama Administration. “Changes in style and tactics should not be viewed with alarm,” he said. “Refrain from your habit of overanalyzing [the United States].” Feltman was also quick to warn that Hezbollah is just as much of a threat to the security of Lebanon as it is to Israel. It was a theme echoed by Indyk, who said that the “disarmament of Hezbollah is a Lebanese responsibility.” Indyk said that as long as Hezbollah was more militarily advanced than the government, it would continue to be a state within a state-jeopardizing Lebanon’s sovereignty and US support. Some speakers observed that Hezbollah should be able to retain its role as a political entity, but only if it disarms and yields to the government’s “monopoly of force” essential for the survival of Lebanese democracy.

Meanwhile, in a panel discussion among Lebanese members of parliament, political rivals debated the upcoming Lebanese election. Moderator Michael Young observed that the panel represented the “divisiveness of the Lebanese political class.” Still, all the panelists agreed that Lebanon should be a sovereign state, free from all forms of outside interference and manipulation. As Rep. Rahall said later in a keynote speech, “Do not let Lebanon be a prize for signing a peace treaty.”

Other notable quotes from the December 12 conference included:

“The support of the democratic values of Lebanon is something that is bipartisan in this nation.” – Walter Isaacson, President and CEO, The Aspen Institute

“Syria is a master at playing the spoiler role if it feels ignored or that its interests are threatened.”- Theodore Kattouf, President, AMIDEAST

“If Hezbollah and its allies take control of Lebanon, … the basis of US support for Lebanon will be jeopardized.” – Martin Indyk, Director, Saban Center, Brookings Institution

“We have to look at Syria’s intention toward Lebanon by the facts on the ground, not by what Syria is saying.” – Jeffrey Feltman, Deputy Secretary of State for Near East Affairs

“Iraq is the greatest disaster in foreign policy primarily because of what it did to the good name of democracy.” – former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

“As we elect the 44th president, we have turned power over peacefully longer than any other place in the world.” – former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

“Lebanon’s failure would be a failure of opportunity for the United States in the Middle East.” – US Representative Charles Boustany

“The stakes are existential. … Lebanon is at the intersection of the realists and the transformationalists.” – Nayla Mouawad, Qornet Shehwan MP, Zghorta

“There is more competition over parliament seats than there is dialogue in Lebanon right now.”- Ghassan Mokheiber, Change and Reform MP, Metn

“Unless Hezbollah and the situation with Lebanon is high on the next administration’s list of priorities,” the Middle East will remain insecure. – Steven Cook, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

“I keep waiting for the actions of Hezbollah to create a counter – reaction. But it never seems to, and that worries me.” – David Ignatius, Columnist, The Washington Post

“Using one religious group to stop another is part of the tragedy of Lebanon.” – David Ignatius, Columnist, The Washington Post

Video of the conference will be posted at video.aspeninstitute.org.

The Lebanon Renaissance Foundation is an independent civil society group whose members are drawn from all religious denominations, who, through their professional activities, have been engaged in efforts aimed at preserving the core values of the Cedar Revolution. For more information, visit www.lebanonrenaissance.org.

Assad seeks Israeli stance on Golan
Reuters, 16 December 2008

Syria has drafted a document defining the boundaries of the Golan Heights and was waiting for an Israeli reply through Turkish mediators, sources familiar with the talks said this week.

President Bashar Assad recently told Western officials that Damascus wants Israel to take a clear position on the territorial problem between the two countries before agreeing to push stalled peace talks forward.

The Syrian document sets the boundaries with reference to six geographical points, the sources told Reuters.

“The president was clear that Syria wants to know the Israeli view about what constitutes occupied Syrian territory before progress could be made,” one of the sources said.

“According to Syrian thinking, Israeli agreement on the six (geographical) points could help seal a peace deal next year. But Israel may not be able to provide a response any time soon, when it is in such political turmoil,” a second source said.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in response to the report, “We do not negotiate through the media.” ….

Assad tells European diplomats that he isn’t responsible for restraining Hezbollah, and won’t be “Israel’s bodyguard”…  http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1048342.html

Livni: Syria peace must involve more than just eating hummus in Damascus
Haaretz.com, 16 December 2008

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Tuesday said peace with Syria would have to involve more than mere culinary tourism, speaking in response to reports of Syria’s demands in indirect negotiations with Israel.

“What is important to us is not a peace of opening embassies and eating Humus in Damascus, but the halting of arms smuggling through Syria to Hezbollah, their strong ties to Iran and their endless support of terrorist organizations such as Hamas,” said the foreign minister.

Livni, the chairwoman of the leading Kadima party and a prime ministerial hopeful, made the comments at a conference in the northern Galilee.

She added: “I don’t know of negotiations that end before they have begun.”

Earlier Tuesday it emerged that sources familiar with the peace talks said this week that Syria has drafted a document defining potential boundaries for the Golan Heights and is waiting for an Israeli reply through Turkish mediators.

President Bashar al-Assad recently told Western officials that Damascus wants Israel to take a clear position on the territorial problem between the two countries before agreeing to push stalled peace talks forward…

Israeli diplomat: No more talks with Syria at this time
By Barak Ravid and Yoav Stern
Haaretz.com, 17 December 2008

Israel and Syria have both told Turkey that they are not currently interested in conducting another round of indirect talks with each other, an Israeli diplomat told Haaretz this week.

The diplomat said Damascus and Jerusalem explained that they are suspending the Turkish mediation in peace negotiations because talks would be pointless before Israel’s general election on February 10. Turkish officials said they believed talks would be resumed after Israel gets its new leader.

The decision to shelve the process did not invoke much protest from the Foreign Ministry, where top diplomats have said they are unhappy with the way peace talks have allowed Syria to break out of its isolation, despite its classification as a terror-sponsoring country.

This problem reached new levels when the European Commission issued a draft early this month for updating its free trade agreement with Syria, which had been suspended for several years. The signing of a final free trade deal will not happen any time soon, but the draft represents a significant achievement for Damascus…

Olmert: It is possible to negotiate peace deal with Syria
By Barak Ravid
Haaretz, 19 December 2008

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday in a speech that it was possible to negotiate a peace deal between Israel and Syria.

Speaking at a conference of the Institute for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, Olmert said that the indirect Israel-Syria talks mediated by Turkey can lead to direct negotiations, stressing that a peace treaty with Syria can be achieved.

Referring to ongoing indirect peace talks, mediated by Turkey, Olmert continued, saying “the talks with Syria were thorough and important. Removing Syria from the radical axis is one of Israel’s top priorities.”

“Tough sacrifices will be required,” Olmert continued, “but the prevention of lost lives is worth it. Syria is not interested in belonging to the axis of evil, and wants to forge ties with the U.S.”

Olmert said a peace treaty would break the ties between Syria and Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, but he could not guarantee success. He said, “How will we know if we don’t try? How can we try if we are not prepared to take any risks?”

“A peace deal with Syria will alter the balance of power between moderates and extremists in the Middle East? A deal with Syria will minimize the threat of war from the north and will eliminate the assistance it gives to terror organizations,” Olmert went on to say.

Right-wing MKs were quick to respond to Olmert’s address, with Likud MK Yuval Steinitz saying “the Golan is essential to Israel’s security, welfare and future, and cannot be used as currency by the Olmert-Livni government.”

MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) also criticized Olmert’s remarks, saying that the prime minister “dreams that the Israeli public will forget the corruption scandals that brought about the end of his reign, while [Syrian President Bashar] Assad dreams of wading in the Kinneret.”

Meanwhile Thursday, Olmert announced that he would be meeting Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Monday to discuss Israel’s indirect peace talks with Syria and other issues.

Turkey has been mediating the indirect talks but they were suspended earlier this year after Olmert announced his resignation over a corruption scandal.

Olmert remains Israel’s caretaker premier until a new government is formed after a February election.

“Prime Minister Olmert spoke yesterday to the Turkish prime minister and they agreed to meet on Monday in Ankara,” said Mark Regev, Olmert’s spokesman. “The meeting will deal with bilateral issues as well as regional issues, including the political processes in the region.”

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said indirect peace talks with Syria will be high on the agenda during the Olmert-Erdogan meeting.

“It’s possible that there will be another round but it has not been decided,” the official said of the Israeli-Syrian track.

On Tuesday, it emerged that sources familiar with the peace talks said this week that Syria has drafted a document defining potential boundaries for the Golan Heights and is waiting for an Israeli reply through Turkish mediators.

Israel and Syria held almost 10 years of direct talks under U.S. supervision which collapsed in 2000 over the scope of a proposed Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Israel captured the plateau in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it more than a decade later – a move rejected by the United Nations.

Change they can believe in
By Walter Russell Mead Published: December 17, 2008

Reviving the Middle East peace process is the worst kind of necessary evil for a U.S. administration: very necessary, and very evil.

It is necessary because the festering dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians in a volatile, strategically vital region has broad implications for U.S. interests and because the security of Israel is one of the American public’s most enduring international concerns.

It is evil because it is costly and difficult. The price of engagement is high, the chances for a solution are mixed at best, and all of the available approaches carry significant political risks.

The incoming U.S. president, Barack Obama, faces a daunting task. He needs to develop a Middle East peace strategy that makes a clear break with the past, that is politically sustainable at home and abroad, that offers real hope for a final resolution, and that in the interim can bring benefits to the two peoples, the wider region, and the United States itself.

The way to do this is to change the way that a peace deal is framed.

In the past, U.S. peacemakers have had an Israel-centric approach to the negotiating process; the Obama administration needs to put Palestinian politics and Palestinian public opinion at the center of its peacemaking efforts.

Despite their military weakness and their political factiousness, the Palestinians hold the key to peace in the Middle East. And if the United States hopes to create a more secure and stable environment for Israel, it must sell peace to Israel’s foes.

The Syrian Strategy
by Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute. 2008-12-21

….It is not inconceivable that the regime in Damascus might throw its supporters in Tehran under the bus in exchange for prestige, cash and a free hand in Lebanon. But it is unrealistic to expect President Assad to dispose of Hezbollah and Hamas in the same way. Mr. Assad — broadly disliked at home, a member of a mistrusted Alawite minority, comically inept at managing his country’s resources — can maintain his grip on power only as long as he is seen as a vital instrument of Israel’s defeat. ….

Carter meets with political leader of Hamas in Syria
CNN, 14 December 2008

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter met Sunday in Damascus, Syria, with Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of Hamas’ political wing, a Hamas official said.

The five-hour meeting ended late Sunday and covered several issues, including Cpl. Gilad Shalit — an Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since June 2006, the official said.

Carter previously met with Meshaal in April.In that meeting, the Hamas leader promised Carter that the group would allow Shalit to send a message to his parents, Noam and Aviva. Carter also asked Hamas to release Shalit, Meshaal said after the former president’s visit, but the request was rejected. Hamas said Sunday it will soon release a statement about the latest meeting between Carter and Meshaal.

Carter’s series of meetings with top Hamas officials in April garnered condemnation from the U.S. and Israeli governments. They criticized him for engaging in diplomacy with a group that both governments consider a terrorist organization. How the incoming Obama administration will receive Carter’s meetings with Hamas remains to be seen.

During his visit in Syria, Carter also visited the Saint Taqla convent in the city of Maalula, north of Damascus, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria, EU closer to economic deal, hurdles remain
Daily Times, 16 December 2008

Syria and the European Union nudged closer to signing an economic agreement on Sunday but political differences among EU powers on how to handle relations with the Damascus government could delay a deal, diplomats said.

Officials from the two sides finalised the draft text of the association agreement, which focuses on economy, trade and security, and initialled it in a late ceremony on Sunday.

“This is mainly an economic agreement that will put reforms in Syria on a clear tack, but we don’t ignore the fact that it will also establish a political dialogue with the European Union,” Abdullah al-Dardari, Syria’s deputy prime minister for economic affairs, told reporters.

“The European Union is a market of 430 million people. Our goods have to be well priced but also of higher quality to be able to penetrate it,” he added

The agreement drops tariffs gradually between the two sides over the next 12 years.

It also has chapters on weapons of mass destruction and human rights, an issue that has been repeatedly raised by the European officials after Syrian authorities stepped up arrests of President Bashar al-Assad’s political opponents…

Syria looks to better times
By Sami Moubayed
Asia Times Online, 16 December 2008

There are two main schools of thought regarding the future of Syria, now that George W Bush has begun his long march into history and will be leaving the White House in January. Optimists claim that the future will be promising and rosy, citing Barack Obama’s expressed desire to engage with Damascus to find solutions to regional peace, Iraq and Lebanon.

Signals of this optimism are already emerging, the latest a statement by President Bashar al-Assad saying that the United States will be re-appointing an ambassador to Damascus in 2009. That went unchallenged by Washington. Other signs include Obama toying with the idea of appointing veteran US diplomat

Daniel Kurtzer, who wrapped up a visit to Syria in mid-2008, as his Middle East envoy. Kurtzer, who is close to the Syrians and served as Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Israel, is someone who has repeatedly called for dialogue with Damascus.

Others, however, are careful not to get too optimistic over Obama, claiming that dialogue between Damascus and Washington will be difficult – in some cases, very difficult. A third school, currently a minority, believes that Syria is in for difficult times because the international tribunal over the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri, has been set for March 1, 2009. This will roll the clock back to 2005, when Syria’s relationship with the international community was at a historic low. Pessimists argue that after becoming president, Obama will find it difficult to deliver on Syria, because of loose ends leftover from the Bush era, and would rather pursue the Palestinian-Israeli peace process…

….  What many people fail to understand is that Syria is not seeking financial reward for a peace deal with Israel – unlike the case with Egypt in 1978 or Jordan in 1994. Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, once even commented that she was always surprised that the Syrians were not seeking direct US financial assistance, when talks were on the verge of succeeding in the mid-1990s.

Syria’s argument always has been that the only reward it wants is the lifting of sanctions, allowing the Syrian economy to grow and attract investment in a prosperous and healthy manner, from Europe, the US and the Arab Gulf. Syria is a rich country that has enough wealth and potential to manage and develop its own economy, without US money. Paying it to sign a peace agreement would mean that strings are attached, the Syrians believe. If peace does materialize in late 2009 – or early 2010 – this would give, in addition to restoration of the occupied Golan Heights, a tremendous boost for the Syrian economy, providing jobs, attracting investment and increasing growth.

Matters began shifting in Syria’s favor after the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006….

 

Comments (68)


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51. idaf said:

Latest census in Syria: Population stands at 22.331 million. The work force is around 4.9 million, of which 1.38 million employed with the government..

مكتب الإحصاءالسوري ” الرجال أكثر من النساء في سوريا”
كشف مكتب الإحصاء السوري أن عدد الذكور في سوريا أكثر من عدد الإناث مشيرا الى أن نسبة الإناث قد انخفضت .

ووفقا للمجموعة الإحصائية التي أصدرها المكتب لعام 2007 فان عدد سكان البلاد بلغ 331، 22 مليون نسمة، 11،220 منهم ذكور فيما بلغ عدد الإناث 11،111

وذكرت صحيفة الثورة أن نسبة الإناث في سوريا انخفضت بنسبة 1% قياسا بالذكور حيث أصبح كل 100 أنثى لكل 101 ذكر.

وقالت الإحصائية ان أكثر من 600 ألف حالة ولادة عام2007، بينها نحو 147 ألف حالة في محافظة حلب (شمال البلاد)

بينما بلغت معدلات الزواج تسجيل137 ألف حالة زواج بمعدل 11 حالة لكل ألف من السكان ، وبلغت قوة العمل السورية 4،945 ملايين عامل منهم 1،379 مليون عامل في القطاع الحكومي .

http://www.syria-news.com/var/articlem.php?id=4724

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December 25th, 2008, 11:56 am

 

52. Ghat Albird said:

If as President Assad states the Arabs value dignity over food and for all intents and purposes that quest for a just and fair resolution of the problems created in the Middle East with the creation of Israel in 1948 and subsequent wars it should be quite evident that “jaw jawing” as Churchill said, without military threats aint gonna do it.

While not advocating military showdowns between Israel and any of its neighbors the issue that must be addressed seriously by all concerned is ” talking between equals is one thing and talking between unequals is another kettle of fish” and the last has gone on for half a century with no dignified resolution.

Will the year 2048 in the Middle East still have its separation walls and attendant jaw jawing or real peace?

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December 25th, 2008, 1:13 pm

 

53. Akbar Palace said:

Ras Beirut said:

AP,

I think your views on American and Israeli liberals positions in this context are not correct. Here in the US, liberal politicians of all stripes, including Obama give speeches at AIPAC events and promise to always stand by Israel no matter what. Just as the consevatives do. … It would be a good thing for the US to nudge Israel into a fair and just peace with the Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians.

Ras Beirut,

AIPAC speeches nothwithstanding, the US government has pressured Israel successfully many times before under various “pro-Israel” administrations. Of course, I really can’t blame the US, because in each case, the Israelis softened up and accepted US “assurances”. The Oslo Farce comes to mind, as well as Madrid and the F-15 sale to Saudi Arabia (which, to me was the least of Israel’s worries).

So in short, it is the GOI that has to take the blame each time she succumbs to pressure from the American administration.

Don’t know much about the Israeli liberals, but if Shai is an average representative of that group, he doesn’t seem to me as a sellout or a softy in regards of the land for peace formula.

Considering Shai’s statements, he may THINK he is NOT a “sellout of softy in regards to the land for peace formula”, but I would have to say he IS. That’s my opinion of course.

For example, in retrospect, Oslo was a mistake. Let’s ask Shai if he would repeat Oslo under the same circumstances.

He seems very realistic and has a genuine desire to live in peace with the surrounding countries. And what’s wrong with that?

Nothing. Most Israelis are. The devil is in the detail and the agreement. Oslo was an undefined agreement with no consequences for failing to comply. Israel suffered more violence then than she is she is now w/o any agreement.

As we turn toward the Golan and Syria, the consequences of a bad agreement could be fatal.

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December 25th, 2008, 4:14 pm

 

54. Alex said:

Akbar,

You will not have a bad agreement with Syria … If Israel, the United States,and the “moderate Arabs” insist on not understanding what makes an agreement a good one, Syria does and always did.

Syria will not sign a bad agreement with you.

Only Syria opposed Oslo (passively, because President Clinton was a good friend).

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December 25th, 2008, 6:12 pm

 

55. norman said:

‘Troops pullout key to Iraq sovereignty’
Thu, 25 Dec 2008 15:17:18 GMT

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) and Iraqi VP Tariq al-Hashimi
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has told visiting Iraqi VP Tariq al-Hashimi that Iraq’s sovereignty could be restored after foreign troops pull out of the country.

In a meeting with al-Hashimi in Damascus on Wednesday, Assad underscored that withdrawal of foreign forces form Iraq would expedite political process and ensures self-rule and liberty in the country, SANA News Agency reported.

He also reiterated his country’s solid support for Iraqi unity and stability, calling for further growth of Damascus-Baghdad relations to serve both nations’ interests.

Al-Hashimi, for his part, lauded the principal stance taken up by Damascus towards Baghdad. He noted that his country seeks close and comprehensive relations with Syria.

He stated that the Baghdad government is committed to Arab national security as it is committed to Iraq’s own sovereignty. He also assuaged Syrian worries over US-Iraqi pact saying, Iraq won’t be used by US troops as a launching pad for attacks on Syria.

The prominent Iraqi official stressed that the security pact Baghdad signed with Washington dictated that all future US operations should be in coordination with Iraq.

As to attack which American forces carried out inside Syria in October, al-Hashimi said the attack was a “separate incident before signing the security pact.”

In early October, US commandoes in four helicopters attacked the Syrian village of al-Sukkariya some eight kilometers from the Iraqi border. The assault took nine civilian lives and inflicted injuries upon 14 others.

MP/RA

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December 25th, 2008, 8:01 pm

 

56. majid said:

It looks like SyriaComment disclaimer must be updated in order to indicate that certain views cannot be published here, and that there are limits on freedom of expression that go beyond what some people consider as insults. For example I posted a comment which was basically saying that the best achievable deal between Syria and Israel would be a peace for peace deal and not a land for peace deal. The comment appeared as number 55 for a short period of time and Norman commented on it as comment # 56. Both comments disappeared shortly afterwards!!!

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December 25th, 2008, 8:48 pm

 

57. norman said:

Analysis: Israel’s reluctant allies

Dec. 25, 2008
JONATHAN SPYER , THE JERUSALEM POST
There has recently been a significant increase in tension between major Arab states. The ongoing crisis in Gaza is the focus for the deterioration in relations, though it is only one aspect of a larger picture.

The crisis is in relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and Syria on the other. The intra-Arab wrangling is itself linked to the broader strategic issue of Syria’s relations with non-Arab Iran.

Among the strategic goals of the Iran-led regional alliance is the destruction of Israel. The doctrine of muqawamma – resistance – is the rhetorical framework by which Iran and its allies explain their activities.

The “status-quo” Arab states, meanwhile, have in the past sought to combine fiercely anti-Israel rhetoric with a decidedly pro-western orientation.

Iran and the muqawamma forces are currently calling this bluff. The tensions derive from this process.

How does Gaza fit into this? Egypt has been watching the situation in the Strip with growing concern since the Hamas coup of June 2007. This past May, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said that the meaning of Hamas rule in Gaza was that Egypt now has a “border with Iran.”

In November, Cairo-sponsored talks were planned, to facilitate reconciliation between Hamas and the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority. The objective was to bring Hamas back under the PA wing – thus returning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to its strictly Israeli-Palestinian dimensions.

This, it was hoped, would remove from Egypt the embarrassment of appearing to side with Israel against Hamas by keeping the Rafah crossing – which Egypt controls – sealed.

But Hamas declined to attend the talks.

The Hamas entity in Gaza’s is underwritten by Teheran and Damascus, which provide both financial and military aid. The pick of Hamas’s fighters train at Revolutionary Guard facilities in Iran.

Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, several hundred of these men have made their way clandestinely from Gaza to Egypt, Egypt to Syria and then Syria to Iran to learn the techniques of light infantry and guerrilla warfare.

No less importantly, Iranian money keeps the Islamist mini-state of Gaza afloat. Exact amounts are difficult to gauge. But the Iranians pledged $250 million to Gaza after Ismail Haniyeh visited Teheran in December 2006.

Given the end of the cease-fire and the growing possibility of renewed open conflict between Israel and Gaza, positions have hardened. In Teheran, demonstrators called for Mubarak’s execution. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem accused Egypt of blatant bias toward Fatah.

Muhammad Ali Ibrahim, an Egyptian MP and editor of the government-sponsored Al-Gumhouriyya newspaper, expressed the essence of the Egyptian position in the following terms: “The steps taken by Syria today are not promoting the Palestinian cause but rather the interests and goals of the Iranians. Forgetting its Arab identity, Syria is handing the region to Teheran on a golden platter.”

Hamas-controlled Gaza currently forms one of the most active “fronts” in the new regional stand-off. Gaza also encapsulates the salient characteristics of the new reality.

The shooting war is being conducted largely between the pro-Iranian forces and Israel. The pro-Iranian axis seeks to shame the mainstream Arab states and inflame their publics, by use of the shared currency of anti-Israel sentiment.

The mainstream Arab elites of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are deeply embarrassed at the turn of events. They want the return of the cozy status quo, in which they could indulge in anti-Israel rhetoric of their own, while relying on American support to keep themselves in power.

But this option is becoming increasingly untenable. Hamas’s control in Gaza threatens to reveal the extent to which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become subsumed within a larger regional conflict – one which, de facto, places Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel on the same side.

Hence the latest Egyptian attempt to prevent a major Israeli operation into Gaza. Hamas, by destroying the barrier at Rafah during such a confrontation, could present Egypt with the choice of either accepting a mass of unwanted Palestinian refugees onto its territory, or joining the fight against the allies of Iran alongside Israel.

Egypt is desperate to avoid either option.

So the war of words between Iran and Syria on the one hand, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the other, is real and heartfelt. The former are laying claim to the immensely popular cause of hatred of Israel. The latter regimes have played their own part, for their own reasons, in creating the public climate in the Arabic-speaking world in which this hatred occupies center stage. Their bluff is now being called by Iran and its allies.

Rhetoric aside, Egypt and Saudi Arabia hope to emerge intact from the roiling conflict between Iran and its allies and Israel and the west. They will probably succeed in doing so, since for the West the alternative to indulging them is to risk their falling and being replaced with something worse.

But as current events in Gaza are demonstrating, the heavy lifting in the work of facing down the Iranian attempt at building regional hegemony, if it is to be achieved at all, will be carried out by the west – and first and foremost by Israel.

The writer is a senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya.

This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com /servlet/Satellite?cid=1230111690087&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
[ Back to the Article ]
Copyright 1995- 2008 The Jerusalem Post – http://www.jpost.com/

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December 25th, 2008, 8:50 pm

 

58. Alex said:

Majid,

I did not remove yor comment and Norman’s reply.

I did not see it in the spam filter.

Joshua or IC can also edit comments. I will ask them if they removed it.

Post it again if you don’t mind. I am online now and will make sure it appears.

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December 25th, 2008, 9:27 pm

 

59. majid said:

Thanks Alex. Here is the comment again.

I do not think that a peace for land deal is in Israel’s interests or even the US for that matter. The 1967 war was instigated by Syria. Egypt and Jordan were sucked into the war against their own interests. Israel won the war and later on signed peace deal with Egypt based on the land for peace formula which makes sense in this case. The Jordan deal also makes sense because the land captured from Jordan is inhabited by Palestinians.
Syria was the aggressor in the 67 war and she lost the war and the Golan. Assume for the sake of argument Syria was successful in her attempt to conquer the Jewish State and occupied some of its land. Would Syria consider a land for peace swap in this case? I doubt it. In fact, Syria would be seeking the total annihilation of the Jewish State for the purpose of creating Greater Syria (or the Fourth Reich).
I think the best achievable deal is a peace for peace treaty which recognizes Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan (territory gained through right of defense against an aggressor). I’m sorry guys but Syria has to swallow its pride, grow up and take responsibility for its behavior. You cannot reward a kid (even if he has pride) for bad behavior.

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December 25th, 2008, 9:44 pm

 

60. Norman said:

Syria and Egypt had a treaty Israel attacked Egypt syria joined int law prevent keeping la
Nd no matter how obtained

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December 25th, 2008, 10:46 pm

 

61. Akbar Palace said:

Syria will not sign a bad agreement with you.

Alex,

Your confidence is appreciated. I’d rather see the agreement and all the related fine print (and lack thereof).

And if I may, I would like to add that Sadat not only made an appearance within the halls of the Zionist Knesset, he was fortunate enough to have a highly unpopulated and unmilitarized land mass like the Sinai as a natural security barrier. Unfortunately, Syria does not have such a luxury. IMHO, Dr. Bashar will have to work a bit on his public image. How’s his english?

Certainly Bashar’s wife could certainly score points in the Israeli-female-fashion circuit… Have you ever read “LaIsha”?

http://clippings.mango.com/?tag=laisha

Majid,

I just have one question for you: Where did you get such a pro-Israeli point-of-view? Do you mind sharing some of your personal experiences? If you don’t want to, I’ll understand.

Of course, your post above is shared by the Israeli right, which, as you know, is very muted in the main stream (western) media.

Shai,

I purchased my tickets to the Zionist Project this morning. Thanks to King Saud, the airfare has dropped substantially. Please email me your contact information so we can arrange to meet (my email below).

I think it would be fitting if we could meet at a Ashkenazi coffee house (like Kapulsky’s) so we can sip our filtered coffee and savor our biskvitim while discussing the lastest good news regarding the peace process (whatever that is).;)

Cheers!

AP

palace.akbar@gmail.com

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December 25th, 2008, 10:56 pm

 

62. majid said:

AP,
I don’t consider my views pro-Israeli. I’m just trying to be objective. If the situation was reversed I’ll be arguing in favor of Syria.
I don’t believe they allow personal exposures on this blog. They’re quite itchy even on matters of less importance than personal issues.

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December 25th, 2008, 11:09 pm

 

63. Akbar Palace said:

Majid,

Your objectivity is appreciated. Hopefully, you are situated somewhere where freedom of speech is sanctified by the local government.

Personal experiences are not necessary when discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict. The emotions run high though, and you can never know if such discussion could be “distraction”.

IMO, I think personal experiences sometimes helps the reader to understand the writer a little bit more. That’s all. I don’t think the owners here care one way or the other.

For example, most of the participants know that I once lived in Israel (for over 2 years) and that my ex-wife was Israeli (her father is of Syrian heritage and her mother is of Yemenite heritage). In this way they know I speak with some amount of experience.

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December 26th, 2008, 3:03 am

 

64. majid said:

Thanks Akbar, and I do live in a very free ‘location’ if that’s important for you to know.

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December 26th, 2008, 4:19 am

 

65. Rumyal said:

Hello Majid,

>>> I don’t believe they allow personal exposures on this blog. They’re quite itchy even on matters of less importance than personal issues.

With all due respect, that hasn’t been my experience here. I have been able to share personal experiences and so were many others. The only occasions I’ve seen somebody censored was when they used hurtful language towards other commentators, or flooded the thread with endless repetitions of the same views, in a manner that stifled meaningful discussion.

At any rate if you feel you can’t express yourself here you’re free to start your own blog! Also, QN just agreed to have AIG on his blog, maybe he’ll entertain you too 🙂

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December 26th, 2008, 4:47 am

 

66. majid said:

Hello RUMYAL
You must be very special and also full of unsolicited suggestions. I hope I didn’t hurt you with my words. So I’ll make it very brief lest….

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December 26th, 2008, 5:28 am

 

67. Peter H said:

I think the best achievable deal is a peace for peace treaty which recognizes Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan (territory gained through right of defense against an aggressor). I’m sorry guys but Syria has to swallow its pride, grow up and take responsibility for its behavior. You cannot reward a kid (even if he has pride) for bad behavior.

Why would Syria agree to that deal, if it wasn’t going to get up the Golan Heights back? “Peace-for-peace” is a concept propagated by the far right in Israel, which opposes any territorial compromises; nobody serious about Mideast peace subscribes to it.

Even if you believe that the 1967 war was 100% the result of Syrian aggression (something which I don’t believe can withstand any serious historical scrutiny), that still would not be justification for Israel retaining control of the Golan Heights. It is against international law to acquire territory by war, even if the war was “defensive”. Resolution 242, with its emphasis “on the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war”, reaffirms this. The proper method for punishing an aggressor country is through sanctions & reparations, as the UN did wth Iraq in 1990, not through destroying its territorial integrity.

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December 27th, 2008, 6:33 am

 

68. Qifa Nabki said:

Rumyal said:

Also, QN just agreed to have AIG on his blog, maybe he’ll entertain you too

Yes, please come, one and all!

My blog is open to Syria Comment outcasts of all stripes!

If you find yourself being ganged up on by Alex, Norman, Offended, Why-Discuss, and then kicked while your down by Shai, please come and make yourself at home chez moi, where the menu is capacious enough for any appetite or dietary restriction, be it kosher or halal, vegan or carnivore.

I’ll leave the keys under the mat, and you guys can talk yourselves silly.

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December 27th, 2008, 5:31 pm

 

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